26 June 2018

NWO grant for PhD project Jessie Wei-Hsuan Chen: ‘Everlasting Flowers Between the Pages’

© Jessie Wei-Hsuan Chen

Art historian Jessie Wei-Hsuan Chen will receive a grant from NWO for her PhD project 'Everlasting Flowers Between the Pages: Botanical Watercolors in the Seventeenth-Century Low Countries'. NWO has granted 19 upcoming researchers in their PhDs in the Humanities Programme. Chen's project will start in October and will be supervised by Prof. Sven Dupré.

Flower books as scientific documents 

The recent embrace of citizen science recognises non-experts as important producers of knowledge. To understand the historical grounds of how these issues of data quality control and expertise were decided, this project delves into the epistemic value of seventeenth-century flower books. The flower book is an assemblage of flower watercolours, which amateur collectors commissioned as records to document their plants. While early modern treatises by physicians and botanists represent experts' contributions to the advancement of botany, flower books offer a new window into the botanical visual expertise that was brought to the foreground by the collectors.

How art impacts scientific advancement 

This project will explain how botanical watercolours in seventeenth-century flower books contributed to the generation of (natural historical) knowledge by amateur collectors in the early modern Low Countries. This interdisciplinary project participates in the current international discourse about how (botanical) art and imagery impacted scientific advancement in the early modern period. It brings further insight into how amateurs acted as producers of knowledge within the cultural phenomenon of collecting nature. By studying the material properties and qualities of watercolour, it also provides a new model to study watercolours as carefully thought-out and finished artworks instead of as preparatory sketches for oil painters.